One of my earliest memories of Oahu was driving with my family past Kahalu, and the cab driver announcing to us that, just over the hill, Columbia Pictures had built a faux Okinawa village for The Karate Kid, Part II. I remember thinking, that’s really cool but why don’t they film more movies on Maui?
In January, Clint Eastwood filmed a small but vital part of his upcoming supernatural thriller, Hereafter in Lahaina, employing around 70 locals. When the movie is released later this year, Front Street, with the help of special effects, will be ravaged by a hurricane. I’m still waiting for someone to utilize Front Street for its romantic allure and gorgeous sunsets, but no matter—they shot a major Hollywood movie on Maui!
Of course, this isn’t the first time the Valley Isle has been visited by Hollywood. Yes, most films and TV shows head for Oahu or Kauai; even Blue Crush, despite being based on an article titled “Surfer Girls of Maui,” was filmed on Oahu. But some memorable and eclectic productions have come to Maui.
Here’s a handful of movies that were, at least in small part, filmed here:
The Devil at 4 O’Clock (1961)
Turns out Eastwood isn’t the first filmmaker to portray Lahaina being trashed by mother nature. This adventure tale stars Spencer Tracey and Frank Sinatra as two men at odds, living on the island of “Talua,” who must save a children’s hospital from a volcanic eruption. Most of the film was shot in Lahaina, and it’s fun to watch the cast walk around Front Street, particularly by the Pioneer Inn. An added bonus: once Sinatra and crew evacuate the hospital, their trek for survival takes them to…Iao Valley! Talk about a long hike! Overall, it’s a kick to see Maui locations so recognizable, like the Iao needle, even 49 years later.
The Hawaiians (1970)
This hard-to-find but excellent sequel to James Michener’s Hawaii stars Charlton Heston and had several scenes filmed on Maui. The film now streams for free on Hulu and is a well-rounded look at Hawaii’s darker, earlier years.
Some of this long, tough and engrossing survival tale—starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman—was filmed in Hana. There are a few shots that are clearly Maui, but a great deal of filming was also done in Jamaica.
Seventeen minutes into this hypnotic, wordless and stunning documentary about life on Earth, filmed in 27 countries, you get a stunning view of the Haleakala crater, shot atop Haleakala National Park.
Jurassic Park (1993)
We didn’t get a whole scene filmed here, just a “plate,” or false special effects backdrop, for a scene with the T-Rex. Kauai got the rest.
Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997)
In real life, the historic Battle of Kepaniwai was fought in Iao Valley and was said to have been so fierce, the river ran red with blood. At the movies, Iao Valley was the battleground for the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers far less profound tussle with the Maligore, in which one of the Rangers offers the timeless sendoff, “Later, flame face!”
Die Another Day (2002)
The first person you see on-screen isn’t 007 but Hamilton…Laird Hamilton, surfing Peahi. His face is covered with a diving mask but that’s definitely one of the world’s greatest surfers gliding down Jaws (Hawaii pro surfers Dave Kalama and Darrick Doerner are also listed in the closing credits). Once the scene cuts to land, the Hawaiian portion of the film ends. In fact, on the director’s commentary, the filmmaker says with a laugh “Pierce Brosnan didn’t get to go to Maui.”
The Hulk (2003) )
Ang Lee’s underrated and much-hated comic book adaptation has a single scene shot on Maui: the very last one. The brief epilogue, in which we see what Eric Bana’s Bruce Banner is up to after destroying San Francisco, was filmed on the Kahakaloa side.
Riding Giants (2004) )
A segment of this terrific documentary on the history of surfing takes place in Peahi, with Hamilton and his crew tearing up the waves. Even if you’re not into “surf movies” (and really, who are you and why the heck not?), this always-engaging and exciting doc will still thrill you.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) )
There’s a Maui tourism Web site that claims a scene from the third Johnny Depp adventure was shot in Pukalani. I wish! Who wouldn’t want to see Captain Jack Sparrow stop off at Pukalani Superette for a Spam Musubi? But I digress: a portion of the Disney blockbuster was filmed in Kaupo, and Molokai got the rest of the Hawaii filming.
Lahaina can also be spotted in the 1958 Rock Hudson/Cyd Sharisse melodrama, Twilight for the Gods, Dinosaur had a background plate filmed (what is it with Maui providing plates for dinosaurs?) and I’m happy to clarify that, despite Web sites that report to the contrary, the Rosie O’Donnell debacle Exit to Eden was not filmed on Maui, but Lanai (sorry, Lanai!).
On the television side, episodes of Oprah, the briefly aired remake of Fantasy Island, Perry Como’s 1985 Christmas Special, The Young and the Restless and, inevitably, Baywatch Hawaii were filmed in part or wholly on Maui.
Then there’s the “Special Hawaiian” episodes of sitcoms Step By Step and Growing Pains. In the latter, the Seaver family travels to Maui, spends all their time at a resort and Kirk Cameron’s Mike meets a local girl named Leilani, falls in love with her, tells her “I’ll never forget you” and then never mentions her again for the rest of the series.
Hollywood has been making movies in Hawaii since 1913, with the first productions being shorts titled Hawaiian Love and Maui God. Since then, surfer classics like North Shore and Point Break, locally made gems like Picture Bride and Goodbye, Paradise and hits like From Here to Eternity and 50 First Dates have all been filmed on Oahu.
Will Maui ever be the setting of a major motion picture again? Thankfully, yes. The upcoming Adam Sandler vehicle Pretend Wife has been scouting Maui locations, although there has been no formal announcement of the Maui portion of the filming. Maui’s actors and economy could certainly use the work, and Mainland filmmakers need a change of pace from all the Canada and New Zealand productions. I can’t wait to see Hereafter and love Eastwood’s films, but here’s hoping the next time you see Front Street in a movie, it’s not being torn to pieces.
Thanks to Benita Brazier at the Maui County Film Office and Attorney Ben Lowenthal for their help in researching Maui’s film history